Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Rock and a Hard Place: When Internet Pictures Are Used for Geology Course Manual

USGS: Rocky and Sandy Seafloor Offshore California
Dear Rich: I have a question regarding using pictures from the internet for a geology course lab manual. Can this be done at all, or does it infringe upon copyright laws? Can the manuals be sold at the campus bookstore, or can they be given out freely to students in the course? If you try to contact the owner of an image, for its use in said manual, and they do not reply in a certain period of time, can you use the image anyway? In answer to your three questions: (1) Using geology photos without permission is infringement unless the photos are in the public domain like those offered by the USGS (all items at the site are considered public domain unless otherwise marked).  Textbook publishers can also run into problems when they get permission to license photos for geology books but then fail to abide by the license. Of course, if the copyright owner never learns of your use, none of this will be an issue. (2) In terms of infringement, you are equally liable whether you give your textbooks away or sell them (although the commercial/noncommercial difference may affect the amount of damages). In addition, noncommercial educational uses may permit you to use photos for free from this site. (3) The failure of a copyright owner to respond promptly doesn't mean you can use the photos.  The photo may be an orphan work in which case you must decide whether to risk publication. (Was it really six years ago that orphan works legislation died?) Or it's possible that the copyright owner might simply have changed email addresses. In either case, a failure to respond doesn't create an implied license.


query said...

Why wouldn't this qualify as fair use if the materials are given away for free?

The Dear Rich Staff said...

The fact that you're not receiving money from unauthorized copies doesn't make it a fair use. Ditto for nonprofit uses in which money is paid. Lack of revenue may be one of many factors in determining fair use or when determining damages but it is not a deciding factor. Keep in mind also, that the offender may be receiving other benefits from the distribution.